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QUICK SPINS: Mikkey Halsted, Rockie Fresh

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 7, 2011 5:00PM

In which we take a listen to two recently released records in Chicago's fertile underground hip-hop scene. First up is the long-awaited official full-length debut of former Cash Money man Mikkey Halsted, titled The Dark Room. Second, and last, is Rockie Fresh, who dropped his second mixtape, The Otherside, in the middle of December.

Photo via Mikkey Halsted MySpace Page .

To say that Chicago rapper Mikkey Halsted has so much trouble on his mind is to state the obvious to an almost insulting degree. The first time the former Cash Money member’s voice appears on December’s full-length The Dark Room, Halsted lays out the stakes for his jams in stark laments.

Both street hustlers and corporations alike pillage the people’s minds and bodies. Then, once the music kicks in, Halsted boasts about being “Nat Turner in the flesh,” while verbally dismantling haters. Subtle? Like a pick ax to the head. But lest The Dark Room become an album-length lecture about social ills, Halsted smartly drops the preachiness and introduces a series of sharp, funky songs blending jazz, g-funk and contemporary R&B.

It’s here that The Dark Room is on fire. “Respect Mine,” “Story Untold” and “Hustlas Need Love 2” show what The Dark Room does best. Namely, being the sharpest, catchiest reflection of working class African-Americans' struggles since Blue Collar.

Elsewhere, trunk-rattling cuts like “First Class” and “Runnin’ My City” have enough bounce and flow to make The Dark Room playable at house parties. After The Dark Room’s rough start, Mikkey Halsted sees the creative light by exchanging heavy-handed hip-hop tell for an incendiary, multi-genre show. With his latest effort, it’s clear Chicago hip-hop fans will see the light on Halsted, too.

Check out Mikkey Halsted's video for "Camera Ready," which the rapper debuted on Tuesday:

Photo by via Rockie FreshMySpace Page

Only time will tell regarding what kind of impact My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will have on the future rappers of America. But if Kanye West’s latest starts its own sub-genre of rap music the way its underrated predecessor, 808s & Heartbreak, did, we might be in luck.

West pretty much launched the golden age of rap’s sad bastard period, with emcees like The-Dream, Kid Cudi and Drake trading in gangster braggadocio for introspection, synths and enough Auto-Tune to choke a horse. Add Chicago’s Rockie Fresh to the top of that list.

Though its lyrical credibility strains—Fresh raps from a world-weary perspective that seems comically exaggerated considering he’s only 19—most of the tracks on his second mixtape The Otherside are all but destined to rule local rap radio.

Tracks from Otherside’s unstoppable middle section—including “Living,” “Real Gone” and “They Don’t Understand Why”-- are simple hip-pop perfection, radio-friendly in the best, most inclusive sense of the term.

The R&B-heavy hooks and Fresh’s smooth flow help make Otherside insanely listenable, even when Fresh isn’t at his strongest lyrically. (Exhibit A: “Sofa King Cole.” Seriously, dude?). Missteps aside, Fresh should’ve released The Otherside this month. That way, listeners could be discussing it as an album-of-the-year candidate--as opposed to a late-year discovery.

Check out the video for "What's The Hurry" below:

(Rockie Fresh - "What's The Hurry" Feat. Imogen Heap)